The UK technology sector is booming – and one of the biggest growth areas was is compassionate tech.
Compassionate tech is things like apps and online services aimed at helping society’s most vulnerable. Examples include Beam, a pledge site that lets people contribute to training for someone that is homeless. Another is ‘GP at Hand’, which allows you to book an appointment with an NHS doctor on your smartphone within two hours. A third is Komp, a high-resolution easily controlled screen that is helping the elderly communicate with others more easily to combat isolation and loneliness.
Duplex, Google’s robot assistant, now makes eerily lifelike phone calls for you.
The unsettling feature, which will be available to the public later this year, is enabled by a technology called Google Duplex, which can carry out “real world” tasks on the phone, without the other person realising they are talking to a machine. The assistant refers to the person’s calendar to find a suitable time slot and then notifies the user when an appointment is scheduled.
During demonstrations, the virtual assistant did not identify itself and instead appeared to deceive the human at the end of the line. However, in the blogpost, the company indicated that might change.
“It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that. We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”
Why It’s, Ummmm, Hot
Another entry in our ‘is it good, is it bad’ AI collection. Helpful if used ethically? Maybe. Scary if abused? Absolutely.
Industry SME Benedict Evans wrote a post recently asking whether the newsfeed concept fundamental to so many social networks and forums will die soon.
His rationale was as follows:
-Facebook’s average user is eligible to see at least 1,500 items per day in their newsfeed, which is absurd
-There are lots of incentives for people (Russians, game developers) to try to manipulate the feed
-Which means 50% of Facebook’s engineering effort goes into stuffing more into the newsfeed, while the other 50% works out ways to filter it (like Google trying to get search results ‘perfect’)
-Assumedly out of frustration, newsfeed engagement is lower and more people are looking to messaging apps for meaningful interaction
Evan reminds us that tech like this tends to move in cycles – we swing from one kind of expression to another and back again, and we might be swinging away from the feed.
He ends with the following riddle:
-All social apps grow until you need a newsfeed
-All newsfeeds grow until you need an algorithmic feed
-All algorithmic feeds grow until you get fed up of not seeing stuff/seeing the wrong stuff & leave for new apps with less overload
-All those new apps grow until…
If you’re experiencing a panic attack in the middle of the day or want to vent or need to talk things out before going to sleep, you can connect with Tess the mental health chatbot through an instant-messaging app such as Facebook Messenger (or, if you don’t have an internet connection, just text a phone number).
Tess is the the brainchild of Michiel Rauws, the founder of X2 AI, an artificial-intelligence startup in Silicon Valley. The company’s mission is to use AI to provide affordable and on-demand mental health support.
A Canadian non-profit that primarily delivers health care to people in their own homes, Saint Elizabeth recently approved Tess as a part of its caregiver in the workplace program and will be offering the chatbot as a free service for staffers.
To provide caregivers with appropriate coping mechanisms, Tess first needed to learn about their emotional needs. In her month-long pilot with the facility, she exchanged over 12,000 text messages with 34 Saint Elizabeth employees. The personal support workers, nurses and therapists that helped train Tess would talk to her about what their week was like, if they lost a patient, what kind of things were troubling them at home – things you might tell your therapist. If Tess gave them a response that wasn’t helpful, they would tell her, and she would remember her mistake. Then her algorithm would correct itself to provide a better reply for next time.
A new web standard is expected to kill passwords. The Web Authentication (WebAuthn) standard is designed to replace the password with biometrics and devices that users already own, such as a security key, a smartphone, a fingerprint scanner or webcam.
One example of how WebAuthn will work is that when a user visits a site they want to log into, they input a user name and then get an alert on their smartphone. Tapping on the alert on their phone then logs them into the website without the need for a password.
The W3C has moved WebAuthn to what’s called the “candidate recommendation” stage – the penultimate step before it becomes an approved web standard – inviting sites and services to begin implementing it. The web standards body announced that Google, Microsoft and Mozilla had committed to supporting WebAuthn, meaning that all major web browsers short of Apple’s Safari will implement the new standard.
Researchers at Tufts University have engineered a tooth-mounted sensor that tracks your every bite (and what it contains).
The device is two square millimeters in size and sticks to the surface of a tooth. The sensor is ingeniously simple — when its central layer changes encounters different chemicals (salt, ethanol), its electrical properties shift, transmitting a different spectrum of radio waves. Currently, the patch is set up to wirelessly transmit information about glucose, salt, and alcohol to a mobile device; its creators think it could be adapted to monitor even more metrics, including “a wide range of nutrients, chemicals and physiological states,” according to a press release.
But a tracker like this one could also have some negative side effects. Indeed, one 2017 study found that fitness tracking devices in general were associated with eating disorder symptoms among college students (though, strangely, the same didn’t hold true for calorie counting apps).
Spending on loyalty programs is through the roof – experiencing an annual compounded growth rate of nearly 21 percent. And no wonder – returning customers spend up to 67 percent more than first-time customers.
But most loyalty programs don’t generate loyalty. One recent study found that customers of retailers that offer a loyalty program were not more loyal than customers of those that don’t. Another recent study found that only 42 percent of loyalty program members are active or engaged. While it pays to have loyal customers, you can’t simply pay customers to be loyal.
What if instead of paying customers to be loyal, those same customers actually paid the companies they want to be loyal to?
It’s a concept Amazon understands well. In the latest quarter, Prime membership grew by 47 percent. Prime members spend 250 percent more a year than non-members. And while standard loyalty programs tend to bleed engagement over time, Prime members actually become more engaged.
What companies like Amazon, GameStop, Sephora and Restoration Hardware understand is that there’s a difference between loyalty and love. Loyalty simply means you’ve managed to put a card in the customer’s wallet. Paid membership means you’ve secured a place in the customer’s heart. At the same time, charging a membership fee creates an onus on the part of the company to deliver value against the heightened expectations the fee creates.
This incisive tweet from type designer James Edmonson of Oh No Type Co looks like a humorous one-liner but is actually a brilliant piece of criticism. In just five words, he summarizes the pervasive tendency towards a visual uniformity that seems to draw in nearly every major tech brand operating today.
Consider the macro trend of these brands all visually converging alongside the industry’s current mania for design systems. That juxtaposition suggests that we’re far more interested in implementing ideas than we are in ideas themselves.
Put another way, as practitioners of design we’re most comfortable asking questions like “How do we implement our brand’s design language, propagate and scale it, and make sure it’s consistent?” We’re much less comfortable asking questions like, “What’s the larger context for the brand we’re building?
My last post on ingestible was about sensors powered by stomach acid. Now? It’s about a tiny robot that walks, crawls, jumps and swims.
The robot prototype is small enough to move around in a stomach or urinary system, said Metin Sitti, head of the physical intelligence department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, who led the research team.
The robot hasn’t been tested in humans yet, but the goal is to improve it for medical use — for instance, delivering drugs to a target within the body.
Walmart has filed a patent application for a system that would allow customers to view individual fresh items remotely before purchasing them.
The “Fresh Online Experience,” or FOE, would allow customers to order produce, meat and bakery items online using stock photos, but then have the opportunity to approve the actual items being purchased via image scans (either two- or three-dimensional) sent to them by Walmart store workers. Once an item is approved by the customer, an “edible watermark” could be applied to the item before it was packaged for pickup or delivery to verify that it was the item the shopper had selected.
The system could also be automated to reduce the involvement of store personnel, according to the filing.
The patent application is one of several that Walmart has filed related to e-commerce. Last year, the company filed an application for a patent on a blimp-style drone for delivery, and another for a mini-store build into consumers’ homes that could be stocked from outside by Walmart delivery workers and accessed by shoppers inside the home.
All this is part of Walmart’s fight for grocery dominance; grocery already representing over half of Walmart’s revenue. Outside of patents, in December 2017 Walmart unveiled a meal kit option and a partnership with Buzzfeed that will integrate Buzzfeed recipes with Walmart groceries.
Netflix is at it again – schooling us all on what personal really means.
For a long time, Netflix has been perfecting personal recommendations on what to watch. Now it’s delivering a new feature to enhance how it makes those recommendations – personalized artwork.
So OK, that’s cool enough thinking about the thousands of titles, millions of users and all the potential key art variations needed to meaningfully personalize content. But what’s equally cool is their approach to measuring the performance of recommendations. It’s basically impossible to control for all the variables behind personalized artwork to understand what works best. So Netflix employed a methodology called Contextual Bandits.
You’re going to have to read the blog post to really understand it (and then explain it to me!) but here goes: contextual bandits are a class of online learning algorithms that trade off the cost of gathering training data required for learning an unbiased model on an ongoing basis with the benefits of applying the learned model to each member context. In other words, rather than waiting to collect a full batch of data, waiting to learn a model, and then waiting for an A/B test to conclude, contextual bandits rapidly figure out the optimal personalized artwork selection for a title for each member and context.
Everyone knows the role of photosynthesis in absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2). While there isn’t any doubt that plants are doing their job, there’s simply just too much CO2 for the plants to absorb and “fix.” Plus a main enzyme involved in the process doesn’t work that fast.
But researchers have managed to make a synthetic pathway that converts CO2 into organic compounds faster than plants. With more than 20% of our rainforests depleted and urban pollution at an all-time high, relying on our planet’s resources has taken a backseat to technological innovation.
Once the technology is successfully transplanted into living plants, we could be in for faster, less energy-intensive CO2 fixation. Its applications include developing systems to create carbon-based feed for cattle, and perhaps even designing more desirable chemical products.
Why It’s Hot
While I’m still not a believer in “don’t worry about global warming – we’ll innovate our way out of it”, I still hold hope that advances like this can be combined with more sustainable living to help us deal with this massive problem.
Instagram is testing a standalone app for private messages called Direct, a first step toward possibly toward removing messaging features from the core app.
Although it is officially only a test, Instagram’s rationale for building Direct app is that private messaging can never be a best-in-class experience when it lives inside an app meant for broadcasting publicly.
When Facebook split Messenger from the main app in 2014, it drew an outcry from users, who pelted it with one-star reviews. Today, the app has 1.3 billion monthly users — up from 500 million the year that it split.
Why It’s Hot
How many more messaging apps can there be? I guess time will tell but for now focused experiences continues to win even when it requires multiple apps.
Seattle-based DroneSeed has raised more than $5 million in funding for a venture that uses drones to plant trees and sustain them from the air. DroneSeed uses sensor-equipped drones to create detailed 3-D maps of logged areas, identifies the best “microsites” where trees can be planted, and then deploys drones to fire custom-designed seed capsules. Water, fertilizer and herbicides can also be delivered via drones.
The company states one of its main goals is to combat carbon emissions.
Turns out the USS McCain collision was ultimately caused by UI confusion.
The US Navy just issued its report on the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain and found that both collisions were avoidable accidents. And in the case of the USS McCain, the accident was in part caused by an error made in switching which control console on the ship’s bridge had steering control.
The ship’s commanding officer noticed the Helmsman having difficulty maintaining course while also adjusting the throttles for speed control. So the CO ordered the watch team to split the responsibilities for steering and speed control. “This unplanned shift caused confusion in the watch team, and inadvertently led to steering control transferring to the Lee Helm Station without the knowledge of the watch team,” the report found.
In the commotion that ensued, the commanding officer and bridge crew lost track of what was going on around them. The Lee Helmsman corrected the throttle problem, but the recovery didn’t come in time. “In the course of 3 minutes of confusion in a high traffic sea channel, the McCain was in irreversible trouble. These actions were too late, and…the JOHN S MCCAIN crossed in front of ALNIC’s bow and collided,” the report states.
Feeling Fireworks created by Disney Research is a tactile firework show aimed at making the effect more inclusive for blind and visually impaired users.
The effects are produced by implementing water jets which are directable, that are sprayed on to the back of a flexible screen. Different nozzle heads can create a range of firework effects. The user then senses the impact on the front surface.
The Disney research team say the approach is low-cost and scalable. A user study showed that tactile effects are meaningful analogues to the visual fireworks they reproduce.
There is further potential for the use of Fireworks. These include the use of balloons by deaf people to feel music with the use of a tactile-visual screen.
Fireworks is currently at the development stage and at the time of going to press, there is no timetable or rollout for the effect to be incorporated at Disney theme parks.
China is building the world’s most powerful facial recognition system with the power to identify any one of its 1.3 billion citizens within three seconds. The government states the system is being developed for security and official uses such as tracking wanted suspects and public administration and that commercial application using information sourced from the database will not be allowed under current regulations.
“[But] a policy can change due to the development of the economy and increasing demand from society,” said Chen Jiansheng, an associate professor at the department of electrical engineering at Tsinghua University and a member of the ministry’s Committee of Standardisation overseeing technical developments in police forces.
Chinese companies are already taking the commercial application of facial recognition technology to new heights. Students can now enter their university halls, travellers can board planes without using a boarding pass and diners can pay for a meal at KFC. Some other restaurants have even offered discounts to customers based on a machine that ranks their looks according to an algorithm. Customers with “beautiful” characteristics – such as symmetrical features – get better scores than those with noses that are “too big” or “too small” and those that get better scores will get cheaper meals.
Why It’s Hot
Another weekly installment of balancing convenience and claims of safety with privacy and ethics. China is pushing us faster than most other countries to address this question sooner rather than later.
Hit-making songwriters and producers are tailoring tracks to fit a musical landscape dominated by streaming.“In sessions, people have genuinely been saying, ‘Oh, we need to make something that sounds like Spotify,’” says Emily Warren, a singer-songwriter behind hits including Charli XCX’s “Boys” and the Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” According to the artists, songwriters, producers, and executives interviewed for this piece, no aspect of a song, from production to vocal performance, is unaffected by the regime change.
Throughout the history of recorded music, formats have helped shape what we hear. For examplesur ideas about how long a single should be date back to what could fit on a 45 RPM 7″ vinyl record. But the unprecedented wealth of data that streaming services use to curate their increasingly influential playlists gives the industry real-time feedback on what’s working, leading to rigidly defined and formulaic music.
For example, in order for a stream to count toward chart tallies and, reportedly, for royalty payouts, a given song must be played for at least 30 seconds. That’s why, while how a song starts has always been important in pop, with streaming it’s more crucial than ever. Another element tying the streaming era’s music together is the way we listen to it: The phones and laptop speakers we often use can have a direct impact on the music that sounds best through them.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield recently spoke to MIT Technology Review about the ways the company plans to use AI to keep people from feeling overwhelmed with data. Some interesting tidbits from the interview…
When asked about goals for Slack’s AI research group, Butterfield pointed to search. “You could imagine an always-on virtual chief of staff who reads every single message in Slack and then synthesizes all that information based on your preferences, which it has learned about over time. And with implicit and explicit feedback from you, it would recommend a small number of things that seem most important at the time.”
When asked what else the AI group was researching, Butterfield answered Organizational Insights. “I would—and I think everyone would—like to have a private version of a report that looks at things like: Do you talk to men differently than you talk to women? Do you talk to superiors differently than you talk to subordinates? Do you use different types of language in public vs. private? In what conversations are you more aggressive, and in what conversations are you more kind? If it turns out you tend to be accommodating, kind, and energetic in the mornings, and short-tempered and impatient in the afternoon, then maybe you need to have a midafternoon snack.”
Why It’s Hot
The idea of analyzing organizational conversation to learn about and solve collaboration and productivity issues is incredibly intriguing – and as always with these things, something to keep an eye on to ensure the power is used for good.
German discounter Aldi is betting billions it can win over American shoppers. How? By offering them way fewer choices than rival retailers.
The unlikely proposition has worked nearly everywhere Aldi has set foot. The company is now one of the biggest retail groups in the world with more than 10,000 locations, businesses in 18 countries and annual revenues approaching €70/$83 billion.
The American grocery market, one of the largest and most competitive in the world, is on the cusp of dramatic change since Amazon.com Inc. acquired Whole Foods Market Inc. this summer and Google struck a partnership with Wal-Mart.
But the Germans have a plan, forged in the rubble of World War II. Aldi offers a deliberately pared-down selection – most stores stock between 1,300 and 1,600 items. By comparison, Wal-Mart’s Supercenters have in recent years carried around 120,000 items. On a basket of 30 typical household items, Aldi’s prices are on average almost 17% lower than Wal-Mart’s.
Aldi is gambling it is more in tune with the American tastes, rolling out small, nimble stores instead of sprawling warehouses and supermarkets that take longer to navigate.
Why It’s Hot
It’s another example of how major players are betting on simplicity, standardization and speed. And a reason to pause and consider the trade off between choice and control versus convenience and ease.
Deere & Company has signed an agreement to acquire Blue River Technology, a leader in applying machine learning to agriculture.
Blue River has designed and integrated computer vision and machine learning technology that will enable growers to reduce the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present, optimizing the use of inputs in farming – a key objective of precision agriculture.
“Blue River is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm management decisions from the field level to the plant level,” said Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of Blue River Technology. “We are using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field.”
We’ve talked a lot about the rise of QR codes in Asia, but they may now finally be moving from being a “joke” to being more widely adopted in other places as well. They enable everything from online to offline (O2O) marketplaces, which are huge in China, to augmented reality.
Things people already do, but now with QR codes…
A member of the bridal party wears a QR code as necklace to collect digital money from wedding guests.
Users in China simply scan a QR code printed on the bicycle to unlock them and start riding.
Including QR codes on large billboards is now very common across China.
Thanks to the recent release of Apple’s ARKit, front end developer Frances Ng has created a point-and-translate app. That’s right, simply point your phone at the item you want to translate and if the item is recognized, associated language options will display.
Whether you’re looking to learn a new language in the comfort of your own home or in a foreign land looking for a helping hand, the app is a great example of often-too-rare AR utility.
The UX magic is possible through a combination of Apple’s ARKit and an existing database of about 1,000 learned objects that Ng ported into the app. While Ng says her app is just a demo and she has no immediate plans to take it to market, what’s so remarkable is that while companies like Microsoft spent many years and dollars on mastering object recognition, Ng was able to build her app in a weekend, simply because it’s building off so much past work that’s now freely available and baked into platforms like Apple’s.
The Tesla Model 3 has been billed as a groundbreaking car. And in one respect, it is: It doesn’t have an instrument cluster.
Although it is unusual to have the most important displays and controls on the left side of the screen instead of the center or right, keep in mind the screen’s location in the center of the car, to the driver’s right. A large speedometer is located at the top left of the screen, which turns red if you are speeding. Below that is a graphic of the car. When parked you can open the hood, trunk, and charging door. The navigation and music selection screens work much the same way you would expect in any other infotainment system, tablet, or smartphone.
Why It’s Hot
It’s one of the more significant updates to car dashboard U.I. in a long time – it will be interesting to hear the usability feedback now that the cars are being delivered. It also marks a more aggressive step towards autonomous cars.
Amazon has a has a “secret” skunkworks lab called 1492, dedicated to health care tech and complementing another Amazon unit announced earlier this year to disrupt the world of pharmaceuticals.
The new team is currently looking at opportunities that involve pushing and pulling data from legacy electronic medical record systems. It is also looking to build a platform for telemedicine and exploring health applications for existing Amazon hardware, including Echo and Dash Wand. It’s not clear whether Amazon is building any new health devices, but sources didn’t rule it out.
1492 isn’t the only team inside Amazon that is working in health and life sciences. Amazon Web Services has also hired a slew of health experts to beat out Microsoft and Google for contracts with large hospitals and pharmaceutical vendors. The company has also invested in a health startup called Grail, an early cancer-testing startup founded by a Google exec.
This past week the internet was abuzz with news of CPG startup Brandless. Headed by serial entrepreneurs Tina Sharkey and Ido Leffler, Brandless is selling consumer staples like food and healthcare direct to consumers all priced at $3.
“It felt like modern consumption was really broken,” says cofounder and CEO Tina Sharkey. Millennial consumers don’t want to buy their parents’ brands, she argues, and all brands are too expensive, marked up to cover the costs of distribution, warehousing and retail space. By eliminating what she refers to as this “brand tax,” she figured that Brandless could slash the costs of basic packaged consumer goods that people buy regularly, and potentially become a significant player in a $2 trillion market dominated by the likes of P&G and General Mills.
But the biggest difference between Brandless and all the major CPG players is its business model: Rather than sell through traditional retail stores, the company is only offering its goods online. By doing so, the company will have what few of the CPG giants have – a direct relationship with the consumers of its products. It plans to exploit this relationship through a heavy investment in data and by building a sense of community through memberships and philanthropy (with every purchase, the company will donate to Feeding America).
At the same time Google announced it is launching an auto-reply system that scans emails and generates possible responses to choose from.
The new functionality, added to the app store versions of Gmail, works by analyzing a large, anonymized body of email to generate possible responses. Machine-learning systems then rank these to pick the “best responses to the email at hand”. Google is keen to emphasise that its system knows its limits. Not everything merits an automated response – only about one-third of emails are covered.
Most email is unnecessary and most email responses are perfunctory acknowledgements – verbal read-receipts. In the war for control of your inbox, Gmail may have given us an important missile defence shield. Nice! Thanks! Love it!
Think MailChimp just supports small business email marketing? Think again.
Based in Atlanta–far outside Silicon Valley’s bubble of venture-funded would-be unicorns–the company has 600-plus employees and did more than $400 million in revenue last year. More than 15 million customers sent 246 billion emails in 2016.
But the future of the company, CEO Ben Chestnut says, is “to take MailChimp magic we give to email, and sprinkle it on other marketing channels.”
A year ago, MailChimp introduced a recommendation engine–akin to the ones devised by big companies such as Amazon–that let its customers plunk product suggestions into the emails they sent their customers. In January of this year, it began helping small businesses buy Facebook ads.
Now MailChimp’s Instagram ad-buying feature aims to simplify the process of purchasing ads.
MailChimp’s strategy with these new ad-buying services and other functionality it’s recently added isn’t to give itself a new revenue stream. Instead, it’s offering them as part of its existing subscriptions at the same price as before. As with its freemium model, the company is betting that the more essential it can make itself to the way small businesses operate, the easier it will be to get large numbers of them to pay on an ongoing basis.
Why It’s Hot
While most companies aim to leave their roots behind and move on to bigger and better customers, MailChimp is staying firmly committed to small businesses and providing them easy yet robust marketing support at a price most can afford.
Amazon is rumored to be mulling a purchase of Slack, the fast-growing corporate chat platform. A deal could give Slack a valuation of $9 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Slack now has 5 million daily users, including more than 1 million paying users.As of last year, Slack claimed 77 Fortune 100 companies among its clients.
It’s easy to see why Amazon would want to add a popular corporate communications tool to its suite of offerings to Amazon Web Services customers. But the more intriguing explanation of Amazon’s interest has to do with one of the company’s even bolder visions of the future.
Amazon is one of the major players in the fight for dominance in the realm of voice-activated artificial intelligence. As of January, Amazon had sold more than 11 million of its Echo home device, according to a report by the investment banker Morgan Stanley. Lex, the conversation interface that powers the Echo, already has a Slack integration.
Acquiring Slack could position Amazon for shaping the way workers use voice-activated technology at a time when Slack is already considered a possible email slayer. Just think of what bringing all that work data to the Echo’s capabilities would mean for the worker—and the further blurring of any remaining line between work and home.
Ask Tia is an iOS app designed to assist and inform women about reproductive and sexual health. Through personal, private text-based conversations, users can find the best birth control, get answers to sexual health questions, find doctors, and track periods and symptoms. It’s the first product from Tia, a company “for millennials by millennials” that aims to help women make informed healthcare decisions.
Building a trusting relationship with an app isn’t easy. Tia has prioritized personalizing the information for each user. Even a simple question about missing a birth control pill has several factors (type of pill, where in your cycle, etc.), which is why Tia’s guiding questions and personalized assessments so much more valuable than, say, a Google search.
“Our goal is to expand Tia to be your comprehensive go-to women’s health assistant for all of your health care information needs,” says Witte, Tia’s co-founder and CEO.